“If history is any teacher, it teaches that when you get indifferent and you lose the will to fight, some other guy who has the will to fight will take you over.”
“We are going to rescue 70 American prisoners of war, maybe more, from a camp called Son Tay. This is something American prisoners have a right to expect from their fellow soldiers.”
– Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, USA (Ret.)
The word “legendary” is used rather often in describing people in the special operations forces (SOF), due to the exceptional talent of those who make up SOF units. But when operators from around the world get together, and share their memories of the best and most talented special warfare personnel to ever wear the uniform, there is always a story about Col. Arthur D. Simons. Known to his friends and peers as “Bull,” the nickname was as much a reference to his rough looks as it was to his dogged personality and spirit. Simons also had a special passion, one that would continually be demonstrated by his actions: rescuing people.
As it turned out, it was a passion he would share with others, including one of his best and most fond friends, Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. Perot, always a supporter of the U.S. military, is just one of those with special memories of Bull Simons. Another is Dr. Pamela Meadows, Ph.D., the widow of another Special Forces icon, Capt. Richard “Dick” Meadows, USA (Ret.). Both have been kind enough to share some of their personal memories of Simons with The Year in Special Operations, and it is our pleasure to offer them to you as our homage to a truly legendary SOF professional.
Bull Simons: The Early Years
Arthur David Simons was born in New York, N.Y., moving to Missouri with his family when he was a boy. Simons attended the University of Missouri, Columbia, majoring in journalism and entering the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps program there in 1937. Shortly after graduating in 1940, he married his wife, Lucille, and had two sons, Bruce and Harry. He remained married to “Lou” for 37 years until her death from cancer in 1978.
Commissioned a lieutenant, Simons was assigned to the 98th Field Artillery Battalion, one of the last such units to use mules extensively. Quickly promoted to captain, Simons was not a happy soldier in the artillery. He truly found himself as a soldier, however, when his battery became part of the famous 6th Ranger Battalion, serving under Lt. Col. Henry A. “Hank” Mucci. It was a career move that would make history. One of his earliest missions was a raid on a Japanese radio station, which he led personally. Perot remembers the story.
“They sent him along with a team of Rangers over to an island to destroy a Japanese radio tower,” Perot said. “They went over by submarine at night, surfaced, and went ashore in rubber rafts. They then stored the rafts in a triple-canopy jungle, and then in classic Simons style, he did a lot of reconnaissance on the radio station himself, and kept his men in the jungle. He had a total of 16 people up at the base camp, with one man on duty all the time. He never told his men they had to eat whatever they could find in the jungle, and they were there for over 30 days, while he waited for the right conditions to make the attack.
“Finally, they had a monsoon-like rain one night. Simons knew from his observations that the guard never looked down the cliff. So he climbed the cliff with explosives on his back and a knife during the storm, caught the guard totally by surprise, took him out with the knife, and took the guard’s rifle, went into the Japanese barracks and shot the other 15 Japanese soldiers in their sleep.
“He told me this story in front of a nice lady who responded, ‘… He shot them in their sleep?’ He told the woman, ‘Lady, when you’re in combat, you don’t wake your enemy up and say, “Let’s fight!”’ Once all the Japanese in the barracks were dead, he went back outside, personally blew up the radio tower, and needed to send one more signal to his troops that the job was done, so he lighted his cigar! He was a big cigar man! Bull then walked down the face of the mountain, where his men met him in the jungle, they having walked completely around the mountain. They then called the submarine back in, and took the rubber rafts back to the submarine to go home.”
With the rest of the 6th Rangers, Simons took part in the Philippines landings at Leyte and Lingayen Gulf, along with the Prisoner of War (POW) rescue raid on Cabanatuan Prison in 1945. The raid freed 511 American and Allied POWs and killed 523 Japanese for the loss of just two Rangers and one POW. Most importantly for Simons, however, the Cabanatuan Raid seems to have crystallized the idea of rescue as a solid special warfare mission.
Vietnam, and Son Tay
Following World War II, Simons, now a major, mustered out of the Army for five years, but with the coming of the Korean War, was recalled in 1951 to train Rangers in amphibious and jungle warfare. He also put his journalism degree to work as a public affairs officer, although his first love was always the special warfare arena. He joined the Special Forces in 1957, and was assigned to the 77th Special Forces Group (SFG). In 1961, Simons was promoted to lieutenant colonel and went to Laos to command a 107-man Mobile Training Team as part of Operation White Star. After a year in the bush without losing a single soldier, Simons was made the first commander of the 8th SFG, based in Panama from 1962 to 1964.
It was during his tour commanding 8th SFG that Simons met another special friend: Pamela Meadows. She was the daughter of the regimental sergeant major of the British Special Air Service, and was home on holiday from college when she met a charming American sergeant named Dick Meadows, who was the first non-commissioned officer (NCO) to do an exchange tour for the U.S. military. Falling in love with the handsome American soldier, she followed him home to America and the pair planned to marry. However, since Dick Meadows was a member of the active-duty military, she would have to be interviewed by his commanding officer to determine her worthiness as a future U.S. Army wife and potential American citizen. Meadows’ commander was Simons.
“I was summoned to Art’s office, because that is what he made me call him, for what almost seemed like an inquisition,” she remembered. “And his words to me were, among others, ‘I understand that you want to marry one of my boys.’ I was so nervous, and went into a defensive mode, and I replied, ‘Not exactly, sir. One of your boys wants to marry me!’ He then came around his desk, and gave me a hug. After that, he and his wife became friends, and both remained that way until their deaths in the 1970s. I think I would probably describe him as awesomely rugged and almost dangerous looking. He scared me half to death. Later, after we become closer – and it took awhile – I told him, ‘You scared the hell out of me that day!’” she said, referring to her interview in his office. “Simons replied, ‘I know I did, and I meant to! You were taking large liberties with me! I don’t turn loose of many of my boys so easily. …’”
The centerpiece of Simons’ career was leading the raid on the POW camp at Son Tay, west of Hanoi, in November 1970. Documented in several excellent books, the raid is remembered on a more personal level by Pamela Meadows.
“I can tell you when those three people [Simons, Meadows, and Lt. Col. Elliott P. “Bud” Sydnor, Jr., USA] got together, something was going on!” Meadows said. “I knew that they were up to something, because of the nature of the beasts that they were up to something awfully strategic. They eventually wandered down to northwest Florida, and I only saw them two times while they were training. Once was for the wedding of one of their guys. They did all kinds of crazy training! Then in November, Jean Sydnor [the wife of Bud Sydnor] called me and told me to turn on the television to a particular channel, and there they were being decorated by President Nixon. …”
Sadly, the POWs had been moved and the Son Tay camp was empty, but the conditions of POWs were vastly improved, with the American prisoners being consolidated into facilities within the air defenses of Hanoi.
Unfortunately, the downsizing of the Army following Vietnam, and his career special warfare background, kept Simons from being promoted to brigadier general. However, after the release of the POWs following the Paris Peace Accords, Perot threw a huge party for Simons, his raiders, and the POWs in San Francisco, Calif. In the toxic social environment following Vietnam, Perot’s generous act drew the two men together as friends and peers, a bond they would renew a few years later.
Retirement and the EDS Job
Following his retirement from the Army in 1971, Bull and Lou bought a pig farm in Red Bay, Fla., and took on the country life of livestock farmers and part-time gunsmiths. He loved their life together, and loved his pigs, many of whom he gave names and treated almost as family. Sadly, this restful life would last only a handful of years. In 1978, Lou was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and died within the year. Simons, who had lost the love of his life, was devastated by her passing and returned to Red Bay and his pigs to live out his life, seemingly alone. Unknown to him, he was about to get a chance for one more rescue mission.
At about the same time, Perot at Electronic Data Services (EDS) in Dallas, Texas, was dealing with a crisis of his own. Contracted with the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran to develop, operate, and maintain a social security system for his people, Perot had seen the deal go downhill as the ruler’s health failed and his government fell. As Perot began to pull his people out, the Iranian government arrested two of his senior executives, Paul Chiapparone and Bill Gaylord, and put the remaining EDS employees under house arrest. Unable to find a way to diplomatically or financially arrange their release, Perot recalled Simons from the San Francisco party, and arranged to have him flown to Dallas.
After evaluating the situation, Simons decided a SF-style rescue was in order, and recruited a team of unlikely commandos from the ranks of EDS executives with combat experience in Vietnam. After infiltrating the team into Iran, and seeing their original plan wiped out by the movement of the two EDS executives to a large, Bastille-style prison, Simons put together a new rescue scheme.
“The man who actually led the rescue was a young Iranian EDS employee – we called him ‘Rashid,’” Perot recalled. “Simons had the genius to have him – Rashid – create an Iranian ‘terrorist’ team. There were lots of these teams all over Tehran, and they would meet each morning to plan out their activities for each day. Simons found out that the team leaders got to attend, so this meant Rashid was able to go to the meetings. So Simons asked our man Rashid to form a team to infiltrate the revolutionary movement. Then, the day before the jailbreak actually occurred, Simons told
Rashid, ‘See if you can bribe the police chief to leave the police armory open.’ It cost just $100, and Rashid and his team came out loaded with more weapons than you can imagine, which they then took to the next morning meeting and distributed among the various teams. Rashid, who by now was very well regarded by his fellow terrorist team leaders, yelled that they should all go and storm the prison where the political detainees were being held. That day over 30,000 of the ‘terrorists’ stormed the prison with weapons. 12,000 prisoners got out so [that] the two EDS men, Paul Chiapparone and Bill
Gaylord, could get out. Our team then got into vehicles, and drove over 500 miles to the border before they ran into trouble. They got to within 30 miles of the border when a group of Islamic revolutionaries stopped the vehicles, pulled Simons out, and started hitting him with a rifle butt. Simons, with no comment, pulled a note out of his pocket and handed it to them. It says, ‘These people are friends of the revolution; please show the courtesy to escort them safely to the border, signed, Commandant of the Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Committee,’ and it has a big seal. Now, if you read the seal, it says, ‘Rezaieh Religious School: Founded 1344.’ Simons gave it to me when he got over to Turkey. He read me the seal, and that’s how I could translate it. I can tell you that I now carefully read all seals on documents now!”
Sadly, Simons did not live long following this amazing personal mission. On May 21, 1979, at age 60, while on vacation in Vail, Colo., Simons suffered a massive heart attack, and was diagnosed with severe heart disease. As he was prepared for emergency surgery that day, he made one last call to Dick and Pamela Meadows at their home.
“We got a call up here at the house,” she recalled. “Before he had the surgery he called Dick and said, ‘I’ll either be ‘heads-up’ or feet down in three or four hours.’ That was the last they ever talked together. He was a great man. And if they are in that ‘better place’ together, they are swapping stories and making plans. …”
Today Simons is buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery near Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., not far from his friend Dick Meadows. His statue, next to the Special Forces Museum at Fort Bragg (called “Simons Hall”), is a continuing tribute to his memory and legacy in the special warfare community. U.S. Special Operations Command bestows a yearly award bearing his name to the top special warfare professional. Three decades after his premature passing, those who were his friends and family, and those he fought so hard to save and keep alive, remember him fondly. And when they think of Bull, it is hard not to think about the Special Forces motto, De Oppresso Liber (“To Free the Oppressed”). He lived it, leading from the front.
“Art was a great soldier … but he was also a very kind, very feeling and a very passionate man,” Meadows recalled. “That was the part that a lot of people never saw. …”
This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2010-2011 Edition.